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Author Topic: Tarot or not: where do you draw the line?  (Read 1670 times)


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Tarot or not: where do you draw the line?
« on: August 21, 2016, 04:51:10 pm »
This is partly inspired by Merlick's thread asking for advice on which of three tarot decks she should get. One of those decks is:

Quote from: Merlick;195202
The third and last one is a new one: Ravynne Phelan's Dreams of Gaia Tarot. (

It's been out for just about two months or so, but I've been curious for this one ever since the artist had announced it. In a way it's like the Rider-Waite but with more cards and partly different names for the ones of the major arcana and dividing the minor arcana not into wands, swords, pentacles and chalices but rather into earth, fire, air and water.

Looking at the images and the deck review at Aeclectic, this deck is even more divergent, not only from the Rider-Waite-Smith template but from Marseilles-type decks and other older/historic decks, than Merlick's description suggests. While it's organized into a major arcana and a four-suit minor arcana, its major arcana not only has more cards, they don't map onto the tarot majors - some of them have counterparts in the standard deck, but many don't.

So my reaction to it is that, while it's a beautiful deck, and more directly derived from tarot than most non-tarot cartomancy decks, it's not a tarot deck. OTOH, I have a bit of a Thing about that, left over from back in the '70s/'80s when 'tarot deck' was often used very loosely to mean any deck intended for divination - adding a few new cards while retaining the existing ones is within bounds, as is reinterpreting or renaming existing ones if they can still be readily correlated to their originals (though I might dispute the additions, reinterpretations, or new names!), but doing all of those, and not retaining those clear correlations? No longer tarot, by my lights.

Other folks might look at the extent to which Dreams of Gaia is directly derived from tarot, and count it as a (variant) tarot. That doesn't make them (or me) wrong; different folks have different standards by which they measure such things.

So, what are yours, either about Dreams of Gaia in particular, or about tarot/not tarot generally? Where do you draw that line?

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Re: Tarot or not: where do you draw the line?
« Reply #1 on: August 22, 2016, 02:27:36 am »
Quote from: SunflowerP;195255
So, what are yours, either about Dreams of Gaia in particular, or about tarot/not tarot generally? Where do you draw that line?

My personal filing system is:
Tarot deck - 78 cards with major arcana and four suits

Expanded Tarot deck - 78 core cards with additional cards

Divination deck - anything that doesn't meet Tarot or Expanded Tarot definition. A catch-all.

Oracle deck - ask a question, get an answer level of complication. Can have any number of cards, but I don't really consider it a deck unless there are enough cards to shuffle.

Meta deck - those sets of cards that you use to design spreads with

Ad-hoc deck - card-like objects that are pressed into service for divination. Beer mats, Cards Against Humanity, business cards, etc
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Re: Tarot or not: where do you draw the line?
« Reply #2 on: August 22, 2016, 08:26:58 am »
Quote from: SunflowerP;195255

So, what are yours, either about Dreams of Gaia in particular, or about tarot/not tarot generally? Where do you draw that line?

I am definitely guilty of using the term Tarot as a catch-all for decks that I don't consider actual Tarot decks.  I have actually, once or twice, also used it when talking about other divination tools (like runes).  I think it was just a matter of trying to simplify my statement, and Tarot is a term that almost anyone in the Pagan/occult realm will grasp quickly.

I think that I consider a deck to be Tarot when it follows the Major and Minor arcana split.  I'm okay with a deck not matching the Rider-Waite-Smith symbology, mainly because I didn't learn from that template.  But for me, a Tarot deck definitely has to have both Major aracana as well as numbered suit cards.

If a deck doesn't have that split, then it is an oracle deck to me.
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